03 March 2007

Library Books

• A Country Practice: Scenes from a Veterinary Life, Douglas Whynott

If you're looking for a cozy James Herriot-style vet narrative, this isn't it. However, if you want a good look at a modern American rural veterinary practice (the setting is Walpole, New Hampshire), you will probably enjoy this. Whynott's prose is lively and we hear about the farmers' and animals' lives as well as the business of the vets.

• Giving Thanks, Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimouth Plantation

The first half is a history of Thanksgiving, and the other half is recipes, with some historical background. Not bad, but I felt they apologized too much for the old practice of not mentioning the Native American contributions to culture in Plymouth, aside from the usual history book tales of Squanto. It happened and, sadly, we can't change it. We can only do our best not to allow such insensitivity again.

• Spice: The History of a Temptation, Jack Turner

Turner examines the various reasons for the spice trade: for power, religious need, and especially garnishment of food. He pooh-poohs the theory that spice was necessary to cover "rotted" meat in the Middle Ages and supposes it was more to cover up the taste of the only means of curing meat back then: the intense salty taste of preserved meat. He also examines the sexual connotations of spice.

• A Dog's History of America, Mark Derr

Enjoyable book with reservations, and a warning to beware of children being attracted by the "pretty white dog" on the cover; the narrative is very mature, especially the appalling violence perpetrated by Columbus and later Spanish explorers on the Native population of the Americas. Derr's political views creep in occasionally, and he seems overly fond of the word "extirpation" (it's mentioned so frequently it really stands out). At one point he is discussing the Dalmatian and it is mispelled as "dalmation" at least half of the dozen times the breed name is mentioned. There are also some odd omissions: he talks about the San Francisco dogs "Bummer" and "Lazarus" at length, but not their titular owner, "Emperor" Joshua Norton, and mentions the Seeing Eye without once mentioning the famous Buddy and her handler Morris Frank.

• The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Mark Bittner

I saw this book discussed on an interview show when it came out, but had not gotten around to reading it until now. Bittner, who accepted a caretaker job at a San Francisco residence, discovered a flock of parrots (mostly cherry-headed conures, but also a couple of blue-headed conures and one mitred conure) living wild in his neighborhood. He began to feed and observe them, and the result is this delightful book about the lives of the flock members. As with any wild creatures, there are heartbreaks as well as triumphs and laughter, but when you finish you will love these birds and respect the man who let them remain themselves rather than trying to capture and tame/train them.

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